Behind the desire to govern a graduate-level theological school well is the understanding that “as go the seminaries, so go the churches.” The leaders trained and educated today will lead the church tomorrow.
Sometimes the reciprocal of this tidbit of wisdom is missed: “As go the churches, so go the seminaries.” So when OnFaith posts an article titled, “Are Millennials Really Leaving the Church? Yes — but Mostly White Millennials,” seminary leaders might want to take notice.
The fact that with each generation, Americans seem less interested in religion -- that has been accepted by most people for years. But the OnFaith piece points out that the reality doesn’t match up with the accepted narrative. Church participation is dropping among white millennials, but for non-whites, the story is very different. Looking at young Americans (18–29 years old), the article cites data from the Public Religion Research Institute. People of color make up a third of that group. But filter out the non-Christians, and young people of color dominate, comprising more than half.
Talking with pastors of several large churches that have successfully attracted non-white millennials, the article illustrates the shift in demographics and hints at a vision of the future. One of those pastors is Derwin Gray, the pastor who founded Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina. He says the future will belong to churches that are multiethnic, “because that’s what God wants.”
It would seem to follow then that most of our seminaries and divinity schools will also need to be multiethnic (or more multiethnic). Nevertheless, Sunday remains “the most segregated day of the week,” and those cultural schisms certainly play a role in determining who applies to what seminary.
So there’s an interesting juggling act here. Seminaries need to prepare leaders who are ready to guide multiethnic communities, and at the same time many of them will be experiencing a change in their own demographics. Maybe this doesn’t play a role in your school’s thinking about the future, but when there seems to be a shake-up on the horizon — declining enrollments, etc. — a five-year plan that aims recruitment efforts at the majority group of young Christians might have a leg up on the competition.
Image credit: "Gift Bringers of Otto III," representing the ethnic groups of Europe.